U.S. President George W. Bush urged the Pacific Rim's economic powerhouses on Friday to help secure elusive global deals on trade and climate change and pledged an "unshakeable" commitment to the region's security.
SYDNEY (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush urged the Pacific Rim's economic powerhouses on Friday to help secure elusive global deals on trade and climate change and pledged an "unshakeable" commitment to the region's security.
In a wide-ranging speech on the eve of an Asia-Pacific summit, Bush sought to reassert his influence in a part of the world critics have accused him of neglecting because of his preoccupation with the unpopular war in Iraq.
Trying to reassure Asian allies of his devotion to trade liberalization, Bush said he was ready to show flexibility to help jump-start the moribund Doha round of world trade talks, which he called a "once-in-a-generation" opportunity.
But he warned that intransigence by just a handful of countries could bring negotiations to a standstill.
"The United States is committed to seizing this opportunity and we need partners in this region to help lead the effort," Bush told business leaders at Sydney's Opera House.
Bush also pressed the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to work toward a consensus on combating global warming, which the summit's host, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, has placed at the top of the agenda.
Bush is pushing for the world's biggest polluters to work toward setting a long-term goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. But many environmentalist say his resistance to mandatory U.S. emissions caps undermines this effort.
Bush also used his speech to press for democratic reforms.
A day after meeting Chinese President Hu Jintao, Bush urged China, with the approach of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, "to use this moment to show confidence by demonstrating a commitment to greater openness and tolerance".
Hours before talks with President Vladimir Putin, Bush said the United States would encourage Russian leaders "to respect the checks and balances that are essential to democracy".
Bush insisted the United States and its Asian allies must remain united against common security challenges, such as Islamic militancy threatening parts of Southeast Asia.
"America is committed to the security of the Asia-Pacific region, and that commitment is unshakeable," Bush said.
He made no mention, however, of the North Korean nuclear standoff, possibly because of recent progress toward getting Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear programs.
Bush also used his speech to defend the Iraq war, which has damaged his administration's credibility at home and abroad. Public opposition to the war has made him even less popular in parts of Asia than he is at home.
He arrived in Sydney on Tuesday after a surprise visit to Iraq, and will leave on Saturday, with the summit still in progress, to rush back to Washington to prepare for a crucial report to the U.S. Congress on the conduct of the war.
Democrats in control of Congress are stepping up demands for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
Bush has made accelerating the Doha trade talks a top priority at the APEC leaders meeting. The talks which started in 2001 have been bogged down by divisions between developed and developing nations over farm subsidies and tariffs.
With APEC economies accounting for almost half of global trade and nearly 60 percent of the world's gross domestic product, a collapse of the Doha round could have a chilling effect.
Asia-Pacific countries were also at odds over how to tackle climate change. Australia's draft declaration calls for a new global framework that would include "aspirational" targets on lowering greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists say is causing the climate to change.
Australia, backed by the United States, says the Kyoto Protocol is flawed because it does not commit big polluters in the developing world, such as India and China, to the same kind of targets as industrialized nations.
The Bush administration is concerned that accepting numerical targets without emerging powers joining in would put U.S. business at a competitive disadvantage.